Divided we Fall
(Musíme si pomáhat)

foreign films

Divided we Fall (Musíme si pomáhat)
Made in: The Czech Republic
Language: Czech, German
Starring: Bolek Polivka, Anna Siskova, Csongor Kassai, Jaroslav Dusek
Directed by: Jan Hrebejk
Year: 2000

Synopsis: As World War 2 progresses, David Wiener (Csongor Kassai) and his family, like all Jews at the time, are displaced from their home in Czechoslovakia. Escaping from a concentration camp in Poland, David returns to his home in search of securing any kind of valuables that will pay for travel to a safer place.

By chance he is discovered by his father's former employee, Josef (Bolek Polivka), a weary curmudgeon who bears a close resemblance to a grumpy version of Atticus Finch. Josef's kind wife Marie (Anna Siskova), convinces him to provide shelter for the mild-mannered David Wiener, knowing full well that they are risking their very lives for doing so.

Josef soon learns that, in order to keep David safe, he must do more than just think of excuses to keep the Germans away, and he must risk more than just his life. To keep himself from arousing suspicion, he sacrifices his pride and reputation by appearing, at least on the surface, to be friendly with Nazi occupiers and to keep company with collaborators.

As time goes on, we see that underneath Josef's grumpy, and perhaps even cowardly, exterior lies, ironically enough, a brave, generous individual.

The Good: Director Jan Hrebejk does a very good job expressing the humanity and monstrosity of war by focusing on just a few well-developed characters and their predicament. This makes Divided we Fall a film that doesn't over-reach its purpose by trying to tackle every facet of the Second World War.

There are clever, even comical moments, that actually work to underscore the seriousness of the subject matter. Also, there are some genuinely emotional scenes, carried mainly by the skill of the actors and simple yet effective shot compositions.

The Bad: World War 2 will always be a source of inspiration for filmmakers, but with the number of already great films on the subject, it will always be a challenge to create one that's memorable.

Despite an Oscar Nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Divided we Fall, in the end, feels a bit generic. There simply isn't enough to make this good film great. Although well-shot and logically structured, the emotional impact of Josef and Marie's decision is not sustained throughout.

And near the end, the choice which Marie and David must make in order to save them all comes across as a self-conscious, insincere attempt for the filmmakers to be bold and shocking.

Who would like this movie: Sadly, I wouldn't recommend Divided we Fall. It's not a film that would interest large numbers of mainstream filmgoers.

And unfortunately for the more artistically inclined, it doesn't offer enough originality or substance for lengthy discussion.

(2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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